The popularity of the first-person shooter video game genre has fluctuated over the years, but that’s true for all video games. Still, while turn-based strategy games, real-time strategies, and other genres have been falling out of favour recently, FPS games are still going strong, fluctuations or not.
On the one hand, that makes one wonder why FPS games are exceptional. On the other hand, it does irk the question of which has been the most popular first-person shooter game in history. Naturally, few popular video games ever remain as single entries – once a game starts catching people’s interest, studios are quick to pump out sequels and spin-offs.
Some of those work out, and others don’t, but the popularity of franchises tend to be measured over time and not with the appraisal of individual game instalments. Continue reading as we examine which first-person shooter games have stood the test of time compared to all the rest.
8. Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds
PUBG may have started as just mods for other games developed by Brendan “PlayerUnknown” Greene, but it quickly grew to much more than that. The game was first released in 2017 and has since garnered the attention of millions, inspired the creation of various popular video series, and expanded into a proper franchise involving other games under the PUBG brand.
7. Apex Legends and Titanfall
EA’s futuristic and free-to-play first-person shooter may be new to the scene, but it quickly became infamous. Some love it, others hate it, but Apex Legends is here to stay with a player base in the millions ever since its 2019 release. The game isn’t a standalone either, as it’s set in the universe of Titanfall and Titanfall 2, released in 2014 and 2016 respectively.
The Borderlands franchise consists of four (mostly) PvE first-person shooters. The first was released as a small Mad Max-inspired game in 2009, but its unique art style and gameplay made it so popular that it quickly spawned a sequel in 2012, a “pre-sequel” in 2014, and another in 2019. There was also the Tales from the Borderlands graphic adventure game by Telltale Games in 2014, and Lionsgate is currently developing a live-action movie based on the franchise – something few other games on this list can boast.
Even with all that, however, Borderlands is still most memorable with the slot games at Mad Moxxi’s bar in Sanctuary – even the most lucrative real-world bonuses for Canadian casino players don’t match her Eridium-rich in-game slots.
The only game franchise over 30 years old on this list, Doom is the quintessential first-person shooter for millions of people. The first Doom game was released in 1993 and was quickly followed by Doom II: Hell on Earth the next year and Doom 3 in 2004. Together with the Quake franchise (which launched in 1996), Doom showed people the bloodiest and grittiest side of FPS games. There even was a 2005 live-action horror Doom movie with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. However, unlike Quake, which saw its popularity decline over the years, Doom is still immensely popular, as is evident with the success of Doom Eternal in 2020.
The Half-Life games are synonymous with “first-person shooter” for many people, and rightfully so. The first Half-Life game revolutionized the genre back in 1998 and turned FPS games into much more than mere “shooting galleries.” Not only did Half-Life and the even bigger hit Half-Life 2 in 2004 show the world how beautiful and story-focused an FPS can be, but they even led to the creation of the Counter-Strike franchise, which started as a simple Half-Life mod, as well as the Portal franchise which takes place in the same universe. Most recently, Half-Life: Alyx, released in 2020, became the bar by which all other VR games are measured.
Few video game characters are as legendary as Master Chief, and few FPS franchises are as beloved as the Halo series. While not every Halo game has been as popular as it could have been, the franchise as a whole remains incredibly famous for its gameplay, style, and story. Not only have there been numerous Halo games and spin-offs, but there was also a 2022 TV series, the famous parody web series Red vs. Blue, and much more. Even people who’ve never played a Halo game (or any first-person shooter) instantly recognize the image of Halo’s Spartan soldiers.
For many, Counter-Strike is the grand-daddy of tactical first-person shooter computer games. While we won’t argue that point, the popularity and immense impact of the CS franchise are undisputed. The first game came out in 2000 and remained relevant for over a decade until the arrival of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive in 2012 (with a few other spin-offs in the meantime). CS:GO then ruled the world of tactical first-person shooters for over a decade until the arrival of Counter-Strike 2 in 2023.
Today, CS2 seems like a worthy successor of the previous titles in the franchise, has a multi-million player base, and is continuously updating and improving the game’s features, such as its VAC (Valve Anti-Cheat) system.
1. Call of Duty
It should come as no surprise that Call of Duty is the FPS king of the hill for most people. With a total of 23 CoD games coming out over the span of just 20 years, this is the definitive first-person shooter game for most people. Whether we are talking about Warzone, Modern Warfare, or other instalments, Call of Duty doesn’t seem like it’s going to stop any time soon.
Of course, the franchise has gotten a lot of criticism over the years too, with many people maintaining that most new CoD games are just re-skinned versions of older games. Even with that, however, the fact that they are still incredibly popular proves why they get most people’s #1 spot.
Of course, “most popular” and “best” aren’t necessarily the same thing or exclude each other, so we’re confident many people would add to our list or remove certain entries from it. What’s more, there are many genre-bending games out there that also fit the “FPS profile,” even if not everyone would initially define them as such. For example, Cyberpunk 2077 is technically a first-person shooter, even though most people might see it as an RPG first and foremost.
However, these things are subjective by default, which is part of the beauty of it all. Thus, while no such “popularity list” can be 100% extensive by default, we’ve hopefully given you a few suggestions to check out – assuming you’ve been looking for an epic FPS to play, whether new or old.